Roasted rodents and doing the right thing about food waste

EDITOR'S BLOG: You may not fancy eating a squirrel or highway pizza, but food waste is an international scandal

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 12 Nov 2015

Griddled squirrel, anyone? No, I didn’t think so. Despite the efforts of green zealot George Mombiot to persuade us on Newsnight that we should be adding a roadkill rodent to our Sunday lunch menu, few of us will be skinning Squirrel Nutkin this weekend. Or any other weekend for that matter.

But the whole roadkill phenomenon is amazing. Some earnest eco-warrior has worked out that in the US every year the following gets wiped out while trying to cross the highway:

• 41 million squirrels
• 26 million cats
• 22 million rats
• 19 million opossums
• 15 million raccoons
• 6 million dogs
• 350,000 deer

Not sure even the great Ray Mears, King of the Wild, would dine on jugged raccoon. And dogs - well, we just can’t go there.  

By a strange coincidence last night I was doing my best to make decent use of the leftovers in the fridge before we go off for the melancholy, last weekend of the summer. I made a ribollita - literally re-boiled - a Tuscan soup into which you bung droopy veg and dried out ciabatta. (First World fridge problems, I know.)   Even some very sad-looking radish tops were chucked in. It didn’t taste that great, frankly, as the cavolo nero was seriously tough. But the children will have it at lunchtime today or go hungry.

Even for a smallish family like mine, I am appalled at how much food we waste every week. It goes into a brown bucket provided by the council and then turned into compost, apparently. I might be slightly more approving if it was anaerobically digested and turned into energy. Up to half the food grown across the globe is wasted annually.

I don’t recall much being wasted when I was a child and my parents’ generation had it even tougher - not seeing a banana for years. During World War Two, with rationing in place, throwing food away was actually an offence as we all dug for victory. But since 1945 we’ve turned into excessive consumers and not just of food. Our wardrobes are now all bursting with stuff we never wear. We just don’t know when to say stop.  

Business is waking up to this issue pretty late. Why would it bother? The more it sells the more profit it generates. But enough is enough. And, anyway, there is opportunity in thrift. Tesco rarely gets an even break at the moment - some of its past executives are currently being interviewed under caution by the SFO - but on food waste it is definitely doing the right thing. It chucks away 55,000 tonnes of food every year, a large proportion of which is edible. It is now taking steps to make sure it goes to poor and deserving people. This has to be morally correct and a win-win for an organisation that could do with some reputational rehabiliation at the moment. Pret a Manger has been giving unsold sandwiches and cakes to the homeless for years and is quite enlightened on the sustainability thing.   

So, you can sneer at the eccentric Monbiot, but he’s making an important point. And the massive grocery and catering industry in the UK could win so much approval among their customers by energetically taking this on. Ribollita, by the way, originated in the Middle Ages, when nobles banqueted using rounds of bread as plates. At the end of the meal, their servants gathered up the meat-soaked flatbreads and boiled them with whatever vegetables they could find to make their own meal. Nothing got wasted in feudal Italy and it had better not at my house this lunchtime.

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